Charlie Muffin is a 1979 made-for-TV film based on the novel Charlie M by Brian Freemantle. In the U.S., the picture was later re-released under the title A Deadly Game.
A Euston Films production, the movie features David Hemmings, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sam Wanamaker, Pinkas Braun, Ian Richardson, Shane Rimmer and Jennie Linden and was directed by Jack Gold.
The Cold War espionage thriller follows the moves of British anti-hero spy Charlie Muffin (Hemmings) who has fallen on hard times since the forced retirement of Sir Archibald Willoughby, his previous boss at the U.K. secret service (played by Sir Ralph Richardson). His new boss, Sir Henry Cuthbertson (Ian Richardson), who epitomizes the haughty upper class British imperialist, hardly attempts to conceal his disdain for the under-educated agent who quite obviously does not stem from the "right class". Right at the start of the film, it is shown how Charlie has evidently been deemed expendable and accordingly gets set up to be caught or killed during a joint mission in East Germany—this despite Muffin essentially having been responsible for the mission's success. Cuthbertson's lap-dog agents Snare and Harrison—who are both totally lacking in experience and as arrogant as their boss—are shocked and embarrassed to see Muffin returning alive and well.
Once home in the UK, Muffin's humiliation does not end, as he gets demoted and put on leave, which he spends with his wife Edith (Linden), but not until after a hilarious take on the obligatory spy agent–secretary-receptionist affair.
Next, a classic yet utterly unpredictable spy story unfolds around British and U.S. attempts to facilitate a safe defection of high-ranking Soviet General Valery Kalenin (Braun). CIA Director Garson Ruttgers (Wanamaker) proves not much smarter and ultimately equally officious and presumptuous as his British counterpart, though in a distinctly—satirically—American way. After Harrison and Snare's spectacular downfalls at the task (one ends up dead trying to escape and the other captured), Ruttgers' aide Braley (Rimmer), a chubby, good-hearted but docile sideshow official, is assigned to join Muffin on a trip to Prague, to liaise with Kalenin.David Hemmings—Charlie MuffinSam Wanamaker—Garson RuttgersJennie Linden—EdithPinkas Braun—General Valery KaleninIan Richardson—Sir Henry CuthbertsonRohan McCullough—JanetSir Ralph Richardson—Sir Archibald WilloughbyShane Rimmer—William BraleyTony Mathews—HarrisonChristopher Godwin—SnareClive Revill—Alexei BerenkovDonald Churchill—WilberforceReinhold Olszewski—General KastanazyFrederick Treves—Colonel WilcoxElspeth March—Mrs. HeidermanOlaf Pooley—Soviet First SecretaryDavid Daker—Bolton
A major strong point of Charlie Muffin is the very solid and convincing performances by its actors; something that is not always seen with made-for-TV movies (and, for that matter, silver screen films). Without being as brainy as films like Memento, the story of Charlie Muffin still calls for an attentive audience to best enjoy it. Since the end of the Cold War however, the realism of the film's Cold War background is no longer readily appreciated or even something that a younger audience will notice. Despite extensive use of satirical humor in the film, and despite its spy thriller storyline, it does, with its anti-hero Muffin, have its uplifting moments. The film has never been very widely shown or known, but some of its fans hold it in very high regard.